On August 19, 2015, Make-A-Wish® Oregon held its first Community Partners Reception to turn the tables and shine a light on those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring hope and happiness to local kids.
This year, the chapter is on track to grant a record 211 wishes. We could not grant these wishes without the dedication of the 360 volunteers throughout the region who work with the wish kids to determine the child’s one true wish. They are the backbone of Make-A-Wish Oregon.
One such volunteer is Joel Kuhl who will celebrate 15 years as a wish granter in November 2015. He has granted 63 wishes so far. Besides making kids happy, he is willing to do anything to make each experience extra special, including wearing a tutu at a princess party and showing up in Bermuda shorts for a Hawaii wish. He never turns down a long drive to help grant wishes and is a champion for wish kids. Through his volunteering, Joel has learned to cherish even the small things. “Every moment in life has a purpose,” he said. “I have come to embrace all of it and hope to have as much as a positive impact on others as possible.”
One of Joel’s wish kids, Payton, presented Joel with the Volunteer Achievement Award. Payton, 18, wished to go to Hawaii. He said his wish experience was the best moment of his life, and thanked Joel as well as everyone in the room for making his wish come true.
Many kids like Payton are referred to us by medical professionals. They also make sure the kids meet our medical criteria and ensure that the wishes are medically appropriate. Two medical partners in particular have worked diligently off-stage to help Make-A-Wish Oregon bring joy to their patients.
Susan Sherwood, M.A., C.C.L.S., a child-life specialist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, has been referring kids to Make-A-Wish Oregon for 22 years. She said that she tries to help make sure every eligible child gets a wish. “It's a sweet part of my work - to be one of the people who gets to tell them about Make-A-Wish and see the look on their faces as they try to wrap their minds around the possibilities before them. Some parents are moved to tears seeing how the community who doesn't even know them wants to help in any way they can.“
Sarah Porter, LCSW, a social worker at Randall Children's Hospital's Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders program, has been involved with Make-A-Wish Oregon for 10 years. She’s seen how a wish can transform a family. “Some parents have never been able to take their children on a trip to an amazing destination or have been able to get their children that one special thing that would mean so much,” said Sarah. “To listen to those parents express how meaningful it is to be able to dream with their children about a wish is something really special every time it happens.”
Susan and Sarah combined have referred about 400 children to Make-A-Wish Oregon and more than deserve the chapter’s Medical Partner Achievement Award.
Before the event, our community partner honorees shared some insights and Make-A-Wish memories with us.
Joel Kuhl, volunteer wish granter:
MAWOR: What has been your most meaningful interaction with a wish child or wish family?
Joel: My very first wish as a wish grantor was for Jessica, a young girl of 13, who wanted to go on a Disney cruise. During the initial wish visit, Jessica was so weak from her chemotherapy that she barely had the energy to move and smile. But then magic happened! After her wish, she wrote a five page, single-spaced thank you letter to all of Make-A-Wish. A number of years later, I was walking through a local department store when I heard my name called out. I looked around and didn't see anyone I knew, so I kept walking. A few moments later, a woman, who came out of nowhere darn near tackled me in the aisle (I think my ribs are still bruised from her hit!). It was Jessica's mother, who remembered what we did for Jessica and the family and was still incredibly thankful and gave me an update on how well Jessica was doing. Approximately four years ago, Jessica and I reconnected on Facebook. She was working as a pediatric tech at the Primary Children's' Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah! I hope to think that through the efforts of all of us at Make-A-Wish, we helped Jessica fight and beat cancer, and now we get to see our magic come full circle as Jessica was working to help other ill children!
MAWOR: How has being a volunteer impacted you as a person?
Joel: Most simply put, I have come to cherish even the simplest things. I have become more compassionate and patient, and I work diligently to try and put smiles on the faces of those around me. Realizing others are going through difficult times, I have found there are many things I can do to give back and/or help out - and this has even trickled down to rescuing a former racehorse (and we know nothing about horses) and serving as fosters for the local humane society for over the last four years. Not sure all of this would have happened without my experiences as a volunteer with Make-A-Wish Oregon.
Susan Sherwood, M.A., C.C.L.S., child-life specialist, Child Life Program, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital:
MAWOR: What has been your most meaningful interaction with a wish child?
Susan: One of my favorite wishes was a humble teenage girl who loved band and had been sad for some time about the state of the band equipment at her high school. Her wish was to have the school get new band equipment. It was important to her to have a wish that would touch many other lives rather than just her own. It was a wish that kept on giving!.... and still does. This was the first time I was aware of a wish that didn't fit the usual categories.
MAWOR: What is your most memorable Make-A-Wish experience?
Susan: Make-A-Wish is a very unique and special organization that truly provides kids and families an opportunity to see themselves outside their diagnosis and treatment and help them find a way to celebrate life in whatever form truly speaks to them. For many, their wish is something they can experience as a family and it often brings them closer together and offers a little normalcy in their lives. As staff, we often get to see the kids preparing for the experience or sharing photos and stories afterwards. I've seen some kids use it to keep their spirits lifted by putting up photos in their room, either before or after the wish. Sometimes it provides incentive to get through a difficult time knowing they have something special to look forward to soon.
Sarah Porter, LCSW, Social Worker, Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Program, Randall Children's Hospital:
MAWOR: What has been your most meaningful interaction with a wish child?
Sarah: I will never forget talking with a 13-year-old boy who had just returned from his Make-A-Wish trip and was now learning that his cancer had returned. The smile on his face was huge as he recounted the details of the cruise and how much fun it had been for him and his family. It was so special to know that he was able to have such an amazing experience right before needing to begin treatment again.
MAWOR: How has being a part of Make-A-Wish impacted you as a person?
Sarah: It reminds me over and over again about the good in this world. From staff to volunteers, everyone is committed to making something special for a deserving child. That is inspiring!
MAWOR: What does it mean for you to be recognized at the Community Partners Reception?
Sarah: It is very sweet. It is easy to be a referral source to Make-A-Wish, and I hope that more and more community partners learn what a great organization this is and how it can benefit children and their families.